This is a slightly expanded version of the eulogy for my father that I gave at the Pākehā (European) funeral on Saturday morning in Auckland, before we drove him to Omaha marae in Leigh for the Māori rituals. We spent Saturday night at the marae alongside him, surrounded by cousins, telling stories and singing songs and receiving visitors. At six on Sunday morning Matthew, my nephew, and my brother, Stephen, got up to help dig the grave, part of a group led by our cousin Ben Haddon. It took them more than three hours. It was a sunny morning. Out in Leigh harbour, fishermen were pulling up crayfish pots.
After the service in the marae it was established that the six men carrying the coffin – Matthew; Stephen; Stephen Hill, my brother-in-law; Tom; and our friends Tony Pigou and Owen Scott – would not be able to carry the big tree that was my father all the way down the long rocky road to the urupā. So we put him in the back of a ute. My sister sat in the front and my brother and I rode in the back, hanging on to the coffin in case it slid around. (It did a little, and we were powerless to stop it.) ‘Kiri’s gun carriage,’ one of my cousins said, and we all knew he would have liked that. My brother and I felt like kids again, riding with the hay bales on Guy Fawkes night, out by the fireworks factory on McLeod Road.
After the coffin was lowered into the fern-lined grave, we threw in sand from Pakiri beach, brought up that morning by our Gossage cousins. Then we left my father there in the urupā, near our grandparents, Jane Te Kiri and Alf; our great-grandparents, Te Kiri and Tihoi (Grace); and our great-great- grandparents, Rahui Te Kiri and Tenetahi. Across Leigh harbour there’s another old cemetery, the Pākehā one, where many of my father’s Wyatt relatives are buried. Although he lived most of his life in Auckland, in death he returned home.
I’m Paula Jane Kiri Morris, or – as my father used to call me when I was a child – Paula Jane Kiri Frederick Morris. He had a very silly sense of humour. In the car he would burst into song with ‘Can I Canoe You Up the River’ or ‘Abba Dabba Honeymoon.’ He would watch Fawlty Towers and The Young Ones with me and my brother. He would even watch some of Radio With Pictures with us, but mainly that was so he could say ‘what a load of rubbish.’
He was funny and he was kind. When we were small, he let us climb all over him. He’d swing us high in the air. He’d let me stand on his feet so we could dance together. In the sea, on summer holidays, he’d take my hand, and Stephen’s hand, and lift us high above the waves, so we felt as though we were flying. In the Winter Gardens, he’d take the short cut path so he could rush out shouting ‘I am the wolf!’ He taught us how to swim, how to row in the sea, and how to drive. He’d take us out in yachts whenever he could, especially the two-person catamarans you could hire on Takapuna Beach. We’d speed towards Rangitoto at an acute angle, getting soaking wet, and invariably capsize. I knew not to be scared when this happened, because he was there, and always knew what to do.
[Lynn-Elisabeth, her water wings, me and Daddy on Pakiri beach, summer 1966]
At some point there was a discussion of my brother, at least, calling him Dad, but we never did. We all still call him Daddy. We’re still his three little ones, for whom he had endless patience and affection. He was a constant in our lives, steady and true, and he loved us all very, very much.
I asked Tom to read the poem ‘Those Winter Sundays’ by Robert Hayden because I’ve been thinking a lot this week about ‘love’s austere and lonely offices.’ I think of all the small things Daddy did for us. Polishing our school shoes in the garage, every Sunday night. Heating up hot cross buns in the oven so we could have them for breakfast before school. Making us Milo when he got us up in the middle of the night to watch a rugby test or the FA Cup. Every school morning he knocked on my bedroom door and said ‘Bathroom’s ready’.
When we had school holidays, he’d take the day off work so we could go to the movies with him, to see things like Herbie Rides Again or one of the Pink Panther films. He took me to see Fantasia at the Civic when I was five. At the cinema or at the Easter Show he’d buy me and Stephen ice creams, because – unlike my mother – he always let us eat between meals.
When I washed my hair, which was long and thick, he would be the one who combed it out, because he was gentle and he was patient. When I woke up with a bad dream, it was Daddy I called for. He would come in, always comforting, never grumpy about being woken up, and then he would get me a cup of water from the bathroom. This was the miracle cure for all my psychic ills, just as Vicks VapoRub was the antidote for all my physical ones. Then he would sit holding my hand until I drifted back into sleep.
When we were older, Daddy would get up at any time of the night to pick us up, no matter how late it was or how far he had to drive. At the age of 20 I moved to England, to attend the University of York. Because I’m accident-prone, I managed to fall down some stairs in Manchester and sprain my ankle. I was on crutches, I needed to get back to York, sixty miles away, and the trains in those days had steep steps up to every carriage. But my father wasn’t there to come and get me. I realised that day what it meant to be so far from home, so far from him.
I also missed the constant flow of stationery supplies. Daddy was a printer, and through his network of cronies could supply any kind, shape and colour of writing book, pen or paper we desired. We had cupboards stuffed with wrapping paper and with envelopes of every size. We had hundreds of what my mother called ‘scribbling pads’ – and there are still dozens of them in my parents’ garage. He got me beautiful sets of Derwent coloured pencils, a brand to which I remain loyal. On Fridays he brought home magazines like the Woman’s Weekly and the Listener. He would also bring home boxes of books that were about to be pulped, picked up at some factory he was visiting. This is the reason I’m so familiar with the works of Barbara Cartland.
There were good and bad aspects to being the children of a printer. He brought home a big hardcover art book for me when I started studying Art History. But more often he’d bring home collating rush jobs, so my sister and I became the world’s fastest collators. The thing we both longed for and dreaded was tags – information tags that needed to be folded and strung (and kept in numerical order) so they could be attached to vast machine parts in Kinleith whenever there was some kind of malfunction. Daddy took me down to Kinleith once, in a six-seater plane, and I saw the machines that were the sizes of warehouses, tags we may have folded dangling from them. Lynn-Elisabeth and I longed for the tags because we got paid by the hundred, and grew to be expert, speedy stringers. But we also dreaded tags because thousands of them were needed at any given time, and they tended to ruin a weekend.
There was another good aspect to working for New Zealand Forest Products that I didn’t realise at first. When I was eleven or so, I begged Daddy to build me a dolls’ house. I guess I’d read somewhere that this was the kind of thing fathers did, especially those who were supposed to have technical jobs. I measured up and drew him a plan of a six-room box and waited, suspecting the dolls’ house would be like our tree house, something much discussed but never realised. But then, one day, he came home with a beautiful dolls’ house built to my specifications, but with an added pitched roof and attic, painted pink and blue. It was fantastic and I couldn’t believe he’d built it. Of course, he hadn’t built it, as he readily admitted. He’d got the carpenter at work to do it.
It’s almost two years since I returned home to New Zealand, mainly to be close to him – in what I thought were the many, many years we had left. None of us realised that time was quite so short – even earlier this month, when we went out for mussels and chips to celebrate his 83rd birthday, or last Monday, when Tom and I wheeled him around Waitakere Gardens so he could say hello to friends there, see the podiatrist (against his will), and visit the rose bush planted in the gardens in honour of my mother. None of us thought we would lose him this quickly.
It’s hard not to feel this is the end of an era. My father was born in Pakiri in 1933. He was supposed to be born in Auckland, at a nursing home, but Grandma got the dates wrong, and Granddad had to deliver him, just as he’d delivered our Auntie Dawn. Anyone who remembers Jane, my grandmother, will know this was pretty typical.
He was born just three years after Rahui Te Kiri died, and was the oldest grandson of Te Kiri Brown and Grace Tihoi Amos. He was named Kiri after Grandma’s father, and Frederick after Granddad’s stepfather. Granddad’s side of the family were the Wyatts from Leigh, so all Daddy’s extended family and whanau lived close by. Granddad’s occupation was listed on Daddy’s birth certificate as ‘farmer’ but it wasn’t so long since he’d been listed on the electoral role as a ‘cinema operator.’ What this meant was that Granddad and Grandma drove over Pakiri Hill in their Model T Ford to Matakana, where he was the movie projectionist and she played the piano during the films.
Pakiri remained an important place for Daddy even after the Depression forced a move to Auckland, where Grandad got a series of jobs, as a timber worker, as a traffic conductor, as a storeman at the Herald. Pakiri was the place of hot holidays and sport, of endless uncles and aunties and cousins, of Ratana services (which he didn’t like) and bacon sandwiches on the beach (which he did).
[With Brown, Haddon and Paki uncles, and Grandad, probably at Whangateau]
He was born so long ago that he remembered the pataka in Granny Brown’s garden, which he had to climb up to retrieve supplies. He remembered when party-line phones came to the valley, and how all the aunties spent their time listening in on other people’s conversations. He was the one who left his giant footprints in the wet concrete around Uncle Ray’s cowshed. His favourite Pakiri memories were of during the war, when the American soldiers set up camp, and he and Laly could ride around on the back of their trucks. He was the oldest and ‘had the name’, one of my cousins said, so he was the favoured grandson when he went up to Pakiri with Grandma, the mātāmua, at Christmas.
He grew up to be handsome and tall – taller than everyone else. He’s easy to spot in pictures of his cousins, towering above them all. The phrase most people used when describing my father, this past week, was ‘gentle giant.’
[With Tilly and Myra at Pakiri]
In Auckland they lived in Ponsonby – first on Anglesea Street, near Uncle Bob and Auntie Alice, and then, from 1949, at 164 Ponsonby Road, on the corner of Douglas Street. There was a picture theatre on the other corner, and what was to become Ivan’s restaurant was still a scrap metal shop. There were plenty of rooms in that big villa for all the Pakiri relatives to visit, to go shopping or to the races.
Auntie Dawn started her long retail career selling gloves in George Court on Karangahape Road. Daddy delivered the Herald down Franklin Road and up Wellington Street. During the polio epidemic of the late 40s, when children had to stay home, Granddad and his friend Clive White delivered the papers every day so Daddy wouldn’t lose the money. This is probably because Daddy still owed Granddad money for his bike. We come from a long line of frugal men.
[Daddy at Auntie Dawn's 21st with Grandad, Frederick Willetts, Uncle Len and Uncle Bob in the back row, and Grandma, Dawn, and Aunties Alice, Rona and Violet in the front]
He attended kindergarten in Victoria Park, then Beresford Street Primary, and finally Seddon Tech in town. He told us that the Seddon Tech pupils weren’t allowed to crowd onto the trams on Queen Street – they had to walk all the way up to Hobson Street before they were allowed to get on. During the war American soldiers had their barracks at Victoria Park, and Daddy and various other urchins were dedicated in their hunt for souvenirs – chewing gum, coins, even coat buttons. When the war ended, he and some friends wriggled through the wire fence and went scavenging for left-behind comic books. They were removed from the premises by the police, and taken to the station on College Hill for a reprimand.
Daddy played hockey for Seddon Tech, and loved many other sports, especially yachting and archery. He has photo albums packed with pictures of boats. He took part in the Auckland to Fiji yacht race and numerous other races in the gulf and ocean. Boats and trains remained a passion all his life.
After my brother started playing soccer, my father became a soccer referee, rising up to national certification and then becoming an assessor. He was secretary of the Auckland Soccer Referees Association for nine years; later he was VP and then president. We watched Big League Soccer while we ate our Sunday roast lunch, and learned the finer points of the game by watching referee training videos narrated by John Motson. Once a week I rode with him to the old Central Post Office to collect match incident reports, and entertained him on the way back by reading out the most comical.
My father was an accomplished ballroom dancer and, to hear him talk, a hardened soldier after his ten weeks of military service in 1953. My mother liked dancing with him, but was always disparaging about his military service, because, she alleged, he was allowed to bring his washing home every weekend.
Auntie Dawn had a beautiful singing voice and was always appearing in musicals and operettas. All the family enjoyed singing, and Daddy spent Sunday evenings with Granddad’s parents in Mt Eden, having a sing-song. (My mother told me once that Grandma would start the dusting, reach the piano, and spend the rest of the morning playing and singing rather than doing housework.)
Daddy loved reading, particularly thrillers and mysteries. When we were young, if he had a good book on the go (say, something by Wilbur Smith), he would be in bed before we were, propped up with pillows, reading away. Recently, when it was too hard for him to read anymore, he binge-watched box-set crime series. He could even watch the Scandinavian ones we loved after he bought his massive new TV, and could read the subtitles.
There was no game or sport too insignificant that it couldn’t become an ongoing family competition, especially (but not limited to) mini-golf, 10-pin bowling, table tennis, snooker, pool volleyball, and Scrabble. My mother was banned from all of these, because Daddy didn’t think she took them seriously enough.
Back in the 50s Daddy spent five years as an apprentice at the Herald, and then – because he wanted a change, he said – became a driver for St John Ambulance. This is one reason he knew the back roads of Auckland so well. He must have wanted a real change after that, because in 1959 he sailed overseas with friends, and didn’t come back for five years.
He and his friend Norman Gebbie drove all over Britain, Ireland and most of western Europe. They saw a bull fight in Spain and the Passion plays in Oberammergau. When money was low, they returned to London. Daddy worked as a security guard for a while, and got a part playing a soldier, one of hundreds, in the movie Cleopatra. He’s the only person we know who’s appeared as an extra in both Cleopatra and the TV series Hercules.
My mother’s family in England loved him. ‘Our Deborah’s bringing Kiri over for tea,’ Auntie Edie would say, and send our cousin Brenda to get out the best white cloth. They thought the world of him, Brenda told us.
That was the thing about my father: he was genuine, open and good-natured, and could fit in anywhere. He was so hospitable to visiting referees that wherever he and my mother went in the world, referees wanted to take them out to dinner and to games. This led to my mother attending her first (and only) Chinese banquet in Singapore, and me getting fantastic seats at football games at White Hart Lane and St James’ Park.
England was too cold and damp for my father, so in 1964 he came home on the Oriana, bringing my mother and sister with him, and went back to work at the Herald. At first they lived with my grandparents on Ponsonby Road, then they built the house on Tiroroa Avenue in Te Atatu South.
[Stephen's christening in 1967, wearing the gown made by our great-grandmother in 1897. I spent all day pouting and clinging to my father. I was wearing borrowed shoes, because I'd hidden my own.]
He and my mother always loved to travel, and they roamed the world on cruises and cross-continental train trips, my father taking hours of Super-8 films and (later) videos, and thousands of photographs. They sailed around the Yasawa Islands with us, and down the Nile and the Mississippi without us. They took the train across Canada, through Australia, all around Europe, and once from New York to New Orleans. I asked my mother what that trip was like, and she said it was the most boring two days of her life. I asked my father, and he said it was the best trip ever.
[On our way to the NZ Post Book Awards in 2012: Stephens Hill and Morris, my sister, me and Daddy.]
His last big journey was three years ago, to Martha and Matthew’s wedding in Mexico. After that, when flying and sailing were no longer possible, he loved to hear from all of us when we went away, checking every day for emailed reports and pictures. It’s only a few weeks since he came to our flat for what turned out to be the last time, to see my pictures from Kenya. For years he’d print out our emails and photos and keep them in plastic-paged folders, ready to entrap unsuspecting visitors.
In the final years of Daddy’s life, we did whatever we could for him – the small things, the things that make up a life and express our love for each other. Christine, one of his carers, made sure his pyjamas were always freshly ironed. My sister took away his sweaters to wash. My brother drove him everywhere. We bought or made food to tempt him, from Rebecca’s chocolate cakes to lamb shanks from Nosh to meat pies from the Fridge in Kingsland to the single poached egg Tom made him for dinner last Sunday.
When he wasn’t really eating much anymore, we made up batches of his chocolate protein drink in the blender and made sure he had a constant supply of lemon barley water. We mashed up his fruit salad. We gave him his breakfast yoghurt, and his liquid morphine. In the end, this is all we can do for the ones we love. We perform love’s ‘austere and lonely offices’, remembering all the small things they did for us, all the small moments that made us feel loved.
A week ago, on the last day of Daddy’s life, I sat with him for almost ten hours in Waitakere Hospital. I remembered him sitting with me at Auckland Hospital the night I broke my leg in 1978 – just sitting there, in the dark, so I wouldn’t be alone. We all spent time with him that day. We made sure he was never alone.When he died that evening, my niece was with him, and the two Stephens, his son and son-in-law.
Earlier in the day a kind nurse named Kevin gave my father a shower and washed his hair. Daddy let me rub moisturiser on his hands, usually something he protested. Later, when he was sitting up, Kevin and I rubbed moisturiser all over his back and shoulders. I combed my father’s hair. Then I sat holding his hand until he drifted back into sleep.